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This map, based on FCC data, shows broadband connectivity by county in the U.S. (Microsoft Image).

Microsoft is partnering with organizations across the country to form Connect Americans Now (CAN), a coalition that will pressure policymaker to help bring broadband internet access to rural America.

CAN is a continuation of Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to narrow the digital divide between the country’s rural and urban communities. Microsoft estimates that of the 34 million Americans living without a reliable broadband connection, 23.4 million are in rural areas. That makes it more difficult for students to complete assignments, unemployed people to look for work, and entrepreneurs to start businesses.

Microsoft’s plan to solve this opportunity gap involves broadcasting broadband internet to rural regions over unoccupied TV channels, or white spaces. In July, Microsoft launched its “Rural Airband Initiative,” a plan that aims to help bring broadband connectivity to two million people living in rural communities within the next five years. To do that, the Federal Communications Commission must ensure that there is enough unoccupied white space in every market. That’s where CAN comes in.

“Without a broadband connection, millions of students struggle to keep up with their assignments, Americans in rural areas are unable to fully utilize telemedicine, farmers are denied the promise of precision agriculture and businesses are unable to tap into the world of online commerce,” said CAN Executive Director Richard Cullen in a statement. “Congress and the FCC must stand with rural America by allowing internet service providers to deliver broadband via white spaces spectrum.”

CAN’s founding partners include Microsoft, the National Rural Education Association, the Schools, the Mid-Atlantic Broadcasting Communities Corporation, and others. The organization will start by launching an advocacy campaign in Washington, D.C. to put pressure on the FCC. The group will also form partnerships in rural communities and educate residents about delivering internet through TV white spaces.

Microsoft has spent years developing technology that makes it possible to utilize TV white spaces spectrum. The company will help staff CAN and provide small investments to develop the broadband networks, according to Axios.

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